Sunday, October 12, 2008

St. Innocent's 2006 Pinot Noir and some 1998's

Founded by Mark Vlossak in 1988. He made wine at Panther Creek from 1994-1999. Mark makes the wines at St. Innocent and has watched the winery grow from less than 400 cases to nearly 7,000 a year currently. The philosophy is one of letting the wines speak and making sure they pair well with food. That means, to me, bright acids and moderate use of oak. Those are also excellent ingredients for ageability...see below, since two 1998's were included as well. This tasting clearly showed to me that they are not built for easy access and slurpability, but that is not a negative! A few years in bottle should round them out or an hour or two in a decanter.

The winery is located in the SE corner of Eola-Hills although they also source some fruit as you will see below. The 2006 vintage was warm, second only to 2003, and produced wines that were big, juicy and deep in color. Some wineries made jammy, simple wines and some produced wines with great structure that perhaps reminded one's palate more of Syrah than Pinot Noir. A few produced deep, complex, intense wines that also had a bright focus about them. St. Innocent appears to have been one of the latter.

I recently tasted the Villages Cuvee and thought I would include it even though it was not part of the tasting line-up.
Villages Cuvee 2006- from three vineyards, young vines in the Freedom and Temperance Hills Vineyards and some from the Vitae Springs vineyard. All are in the Eola-hills.
Also from a tasting the week before -
White Rose 2006- spicy acidity, perhaps a bit aggressive, and so lively on the palate, it's almost tingly. Clearly a good, perhaps great vineyard, but at this point the wine came off too tart for current enjoyment. I do believe it will present more opulent fruit and provide pleasure a year or so down the road. In the interest of full disclosure, there was a cranberry note to the fruit that I do not enjoy in Pinot Noir. Others have no issues in most cases, but it really makes my palate unhappy.
Presented in the order they appeared at the tasting

Shea Vineyard 2006 - In Yamhill-Carlton, this vineyard produces much sought after fruit. Most of the planting was done in the late 1980's. Lots of Pommard clone in the St. Innocent version. Sweet oak is evident along with big, dark fruit. The wine has a big, round feel, but that is accompanied by tongue-smacking tannin. Juicy entry, but very dry on the finish. Big and wild wine with hints of sweetish plum on the back end. Hard to judge now, except that it has a great source, great winemaker and is very young. There is no doubting the structure and the fruit appears sturdy enough to outlast the tannin. $40
Temperance Hill 2006 - Eola-Hills, at a fairly high altitude (700-800 feet) which leads to later harvests, accompanied by the risk of rain and ruined vintages but offset by the beauty of more hang time before the grapes reach full maturity. The longer a grape hangs before reaching that elusive 'optimum' maturity the more complex it becomes. The vineyard is farmed organically. More cherry aroma and flavor. The wine is sweeter and jammier and spicier with a great silky palate feel. Gorgeous cherry notes with plenty of skin, keeping it from being too juicy or one dimensional. The wine is very dry at this point. Here comes some black cherry now. Well done, and much more accessible than the Shea. $31
Seven Springs and Anden Vineyards 2006 - essentially the same vineyard in Eola Hills, until the owners divorced in 2001. Anden is the lower portion and Seven Springs the upper. No more Oregon winemakers will have access to this fantastic fruit after 2008, and most are done after the 2007 vintage. (for more on this story -
Seven Springs has lots of juice, more bass notes than Temperance. Not sweeter, but clearly more drinkable now. Slight forest floor notes, beautiful, elegant, more nuanced than intense. Great mushroom wine...very pretty. I really like this bottle. $40
Anden - supposedly called 'the best vineyard in Oregon' by a well respected producer. Lots of Pommard clone, with some age. The vineyard(s) were planted from 1982-1989 and are beginning to develop some phylloxera. Deep bass notes here, very grippy palate, but damn good. Wow, big, intense and spicy but still lively. a bit closed on the nose, some sweet oak, but not overdone. Classic Pommard, almost plummy fruit. This will no doubt turn out to be top notch, but give me the Seven Springs for shorter term. $40
Momtazi 2006 - From the McMinnville AVA, west of Eola-Amity Hills, the vineyard is farmed biodynamically. Again a bit closed on the nose, the wine is much more deep - lower palate - and tannic. Not a lot of pleasure tonight. The wine is very textural now rather than expressive in aroma or flavor. Difficult to judge in my opinion. There doesn't appear to be anything wrong with the wine, but based on this taste, it's years away from being approachable. Not a bad thing if you plan on that. $37

The following two wines came out of Mr. Mike's cellar:
Freedom Hill 1998 - The vineyard is in the Coast Range, on the western edge of grape growing in the Willamette Valley. The wines from this vineyard are dark, full, somewhat tannic and supposedly age well. This bottle was hard to judge - a tad funky, perhaps even stewy, with some interesting earthy berry fruit showing through. Still some firm tannin. The color is great, but the wine shows a bit of clumsiness, not unappealing, not quite a pleasure, but intriguing. The wine still has a firm grip about it with some lovely strawberry preserve on the palate. Interesting, but more of a curiosity than a treasure.
Shea 1998 - This also still had some tightness, but it was much less tannic. Well done! That ethereal old wine/old Pinot noir thing is fully present here - hard to put into words until you've tried one. The color shows a much more pronounced edge of fading red, but there is still a core of red color in the center and red fruit on the palate. Sweet darker fruit, but still clearly berry, the texture if great and the finish is long, long, long! Excellent!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

1998 Oregon Pinot Noir

We hear it all the time, 'sure, drink this wine now, but it will age beautifully.' Time in bottle is obviously important for big wines to settle down a bit and to integrate some of their more intense tannins. Fans of Pinot Noir know that despite the fact that Pinot Noirs are not generally considered big wines, they can benefit immensely from some bottle age. The aromas become more complex, the mid-palate fills out and the finish becomes softer, smoother and more complex. It is only with time that Pinot Noir reveals all of its subtle complexity and truly can become silky and ethereal. Few people would argue this, and because most casual wine drinkers are never exposed to aged Pinot Noir it can be a style of wine that eludes them. It is very rare, even in Pinot-centric Oregon, unless you're well connected or a well known member of the media to find an opportunity to partake in a horizontal tasting. A tasting of this style features one vintage and many producers as opposed to the more traditional vertical tasting featuring one winery, or in many cases, one specific wine, from many vintages. I enjoy both and am happy to attend nearly any event of this kind. There is no substitute for learning in this fashion. It can inform about a vintage, about styles of wineries and the ability of their wines to age.

1998 was a much maligned vintage around the world although some overlooked wines proved to be very solid values for drinking soon after release. Oregon was an exception, the vintage proved to be a very good one although many people ignored the wines assuming they too had some of the rain and general lighter styles found elsewhere. (More on this unfortunate phenomenon at a later date)
One of my favorite stores in Portland, John's Marketplace, has an incredible selection of beer, the best I've ever seen, and a passionate wine steward named Mr. Mike. He presented the tasting out of his own cellar, with no product to sell, just to offer an educational opportunity. That is a major reason retailers and wineries don't often host tastings of this sort, they no longer have much, if anything, to sell. Lucky me, for the low, low price of $10 I got to try seven 1998 Pinot Noirs.
In order of presentation -
McKinlay Special Selection - essentially a reserve bottling that now appears every year. The wine was clearly not fined or filtered and the bottle had some fine sediment (it was not decanted). There was clearly a browning edge although the core of the wine was still red. There was some dried fruit, perhaps a tad stewy, but good purity as well. Still vibrant acids and good fruit, it tasted much better than it smelled. The finish is long, with a bit of orange zest, and dried cherry with aromas, impressions of clay and brick. A solid wine, but for me a bit past prime.
McKinlay Ladd Hill - a single vineyard on Parrett Mtn east of Newberg. Same color presentation, but with a sweeter cherry nose and not so much of the dried fruit. Wow, that's spectacular! Deep red cherry notes on the palate with good acid and subtle tannin. Not quite as long as the first, but it is delicious and much more drinkable. Great sweet forest floor note, not tired at all, just showing a lot. Gorgeous fruit, reminds me of Savigny Les Beaune or Chambolle Musigny in Burgundy. Wow!
Broadley Claudia's Choice - from a four acre plot located mid-slope in the vineyards, mostly Pommard clone planted in 1983. Unfined and unfiltered and aged in French oak. Much darker fruit here than in the first two wines, with oak also more noticeable - there is a subtle, sweet cedar note. Similar color to first two wines, but with more clarity and definition. Still a tad tight on the finish - tannin mostly - but very fine delicate tannin. Some plum and even some meatiness with a note of funk - not off-putting, but clearly not the sweet forest floor from Ladd Hill. Some time left for this wine - Broadley's website agrees, says the '98's will be good through 2010.
Ken Wright Guadalupe - from Yamhill-Carlton this was planted in 1989 and is all Wadenswill clone. The wine was poured from magnum, which is significant because the bottle contains by volume, two bottles of wine, and the maturation process is slower. This was clearly the most youthful wine of the night with just a hint of an edge of color and oak on the nose, even a hint of vanilla and lovely, sweet cherry fruit. The wine had great texture, seemed a bit short on the finish, then it returns, but the resurgence seemed to be more wood than fruit. The wine is clearly very good, but not amazing - except for the purity of fruit in the middle. Very enjoyable now, if somewhat straightforward/lacking complexity one might expect from ten year old Pinot Noir. Certainly no complaints, I would love to try this out of a normal sized bottle for comparison. Is the magnum the reason for its apparent simplicity? Or is the wine just not that deep or intriguing?
Cameron Abbey Ridge - the oldest vines were planted in 1976 on this 22 acre plot in the Dundee Hills. Cameron makes very traditional, indigenous yeast fermented wines that remind me of old world wines. Earthy, slightly funky nose, 'classic Cameron', with a slight edge. The wine is still chewy and clearly has some time left ahead of it. The wine is very intense, focused and very French. With a bit more time in glass, it actually became delicious and even exhibited a 'sweetness' on the nose. While the wine softened, it never became elegant - and never will - but it did provide pleasure and would hold up well to some fairly big, fall comfort food. Grilled game would be fantastic.
Broadley Marcile Lorraine - from 2 acres located at the top of the vineyard. above the block for Claudia's Choice. Vines were also planted in 1983 and offer a blend of Pommard and Wadenswill clones. All new French oak used for elevage. Slight edge, not showing much, still tannic but the fruit appears to be mostly gone. Drinkable, but nothing exciting. No real pleasure in the wine for me, even a note of iodine(?). There is some hint of dark fruit that nearly appeals, but is too faded for me.
Bethel Heights Southeast Block - From Eola-Hills, near Salem. The block is a six acre section planted in 1979 and is 100% Pommard clone planted on its own rootstock (more on this at a later date). A note of cheese on the nose, the wine was at once closed and intense, lively but a tad faded. The acidity was still bright, with subtle tannin and notes of wild violets and earth tones. The wine was incredibly dark and rich. I never decided if I loved the wine or was merely intrigued, but it was clearly a winner and seemed to have more time ahead of it. A full-bodied wine that could clearly stand up to some big food.

Overall a fascinating tasting - Mr. Mike says he plans to do a 1999 horizontal soon - here's hoping I'm in town because I want to be there.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Borsao - Spanish Grenache

I told you the name Jorge Ordonez would appear frequently in these pages. He is the importer bringing in some of the most exciting Spanish wines available. One of the stars of his portfolio from the very beginning is Bodegas Borsao. Bodegas simply means cellar when used as a wine term and Borsao is the name of the producer. They are located in Campo de Borja just south of the eastern end of the D.O. of Rioja. While the grape used primarily in much more famous Rioja is Tempranillo, Grenache is king in Borja. This wine is located in the town of Borja which traces its history back to the 4th Century B.C., albeit under a slightly different name (Bursao according to Mr. Ordonez). The winery was founded in 1958 and makes nothing but Grenache (Garnacha in Spanish) dominant wines. Grenache is most frequently found in blends from the Southern Rhone Valley, especially Cotes du Rhone. Chateauneuf du Pape is also usually Grenache driven.

Grenache, like Zinfandel, produces significantly more powerful. complex and interesting wines as the vines age. Young Grenache vines produce pretty, red fruited (especially strawberry and raspberry) wines with some black pepper on the palate. I sometimes think of these as deeper, brawnier Beaujolais. As the vines age however, the grapes pick up complexity and richness and eventually can be quite dark in the glass with bigger mouthfeel more serious impressions.

Borsao is making compelling Grenache for a mere pittance.
  1. The introductory level is called Vina Borgia and is made from 100% Garnacha. The grapes are fermented in stainless steel to preserve freshness and fruity exuberance. The 2006 is still available here in Portland and it offers juicy primary notes of dark berries and hints of white pepper. It is simple, delicious and quite quaffable. This would be okay to serve with a slight chill if you so desired. Perfect for pizza, burgers, and most cheeses. A Tuesday night wine to keep around the house in quantity, especially when you can find it for around $7. They also bottle the wine in magnums for larger gatherings.
  2. Borsao, confusingly enough is the name of their next offering, tipping the scales at a still reasonable $8-$9. This one is blended with Tempranillo, usually 15-20 percent. It is always a bit more structured and has more weight to it, although it is also stainless steel fermented. The 2006 shows some smoky notes, more spice (mostly black pepper) and a firmer, more structured finish. This is a wine for pairing with grilled meats, red sauces and heartier cheeses. The 2007 (tasted a few months ago as a sample) appears to be a bit juicier and less firm, with more red fruits than dark. this wine usually benefits from some time in bottle (months not years) and the 2006 is drinking beautifully now.
  3. A new wine, called Monte Oton (100% Garnacha) is currently taking Portland by storm. The 2007 vintage is the first to come to the city and by all responses it is a huge hit. Darker still than the Borsao, this is full of dark berry fruit and very pronounced black pepper notes on the palate. It appears to have been at least aged in oak for some period of time, although clearly not too long as the vintage was available out of Spain months ago. There is not much noticeable tannin, like the Vina Borgia, but this is much more substantial. Even steak would be a good match here, although the strengths would be along the lines of the matches for Borsao. Its polka-dot label reminds me of those terrible candies that came attached to paper, and inevitably tasted of the same. Fortunately, the similarity ends there. This is a wine which might even benefit from another year in cellar, although it is certainly not necessary. $8-$9
  4. Keep your eyes peeled for the Tres Picos, always one of my favorites. The 2006 is long ago sold out, but the 2007 should be arriving soon...